Queer Melancholia in The Lost Language of Cranes: The Novel, the Film and the Search for Language

Angelo Monaco


My paper offers a reading of David Leavitt’s novel The Lost Language of Cranes (1986), and of its cinematic version directed by Nigel Finch (1991), aimed at illustrating the paralysing sense of loss that pervades the American cultural climate in the 1980s. Leavitt’s coming(out)-of-age tale juxtaposes the precarious condition of male homosexuality, threatened by the spectre of the AIDS epidemic, with the disruption of the Benjamins’ family unity, thereby exhibiting the debilitating effects of queer melancholia. By investigating the incorporative mechanisms of queer melancholia and its unspeakable sense of loss, my article addresses the paradoxical search for language as a means to externalise melancholic grief. As suggested in these lines, The Lost Language of Cranes is then concerned with the search for self-definition and in many ways evinces a poetics of melancholia by privileging a tendency to narcissism and elegiac lamentation. And yet, both the novel and the film emphasise the significance of pop culture, gay clubbing, and increasing commodification by means of intertextual references to cinema, TV, and music icons that offer a snapshot of a generation lost in “its new alphabets of images” (Leavitt 1985). In its reliance on grief and pop culture, The Lost Language of Cranes can be said to give voice to what is essentially inarticulable, thus questioning the disturbing mechanisms of melancholia. 

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